copyright Jim Nelson, 2017
Falconry is an ancient practice; a unique combination of field-hunting sport, performance art, and modern science. On the surface, falconry is a glamorous and exciting pursuit that catches the eye of most, the imagination of many, and the absolute passion of a few.
But, is falconry for you?
Before answering, consider that here in the United States there are only about 3000 licensed falconers, making falconers .00001% (1 in 100,000) of the country's total population. That's a fairly small percentage. Makes you pause to consider...why so few?
The answer isn't that falconry is terribly expensive. Like any serious avocation, a falconer can spend a fortune on being a falconer. However, a fortune is not required. The cost of keeping and flying a trained raptor, if done appropriately and keeping a frugal eye on spending, need not amount to much more than a dedicated golfer's expenditures on that sport (an estimated 2 in 100 Americans are avid golfers).
The answer isn't difficulty in achieving one's license. The process of becoming a falconer is not easy, to be sure. Currently, one must procure a sponsor (an experienced falconer who will oversee your initial years and who will provide the mentoring you need to keep you hawk healthy and be successful at hunting with it). Getting a falconer to sponsor you may be the hardest part, but they are out there and with some persistence you can probably find one so inclined.
Next, you must take and pass a test of basic falconry methods, raptor biology, and wildlife regulatory knowledge. Passing this test requires study and commitment to learning, but not significantly more than studying to obtain a pilot's license. Yet, currently, the number of Americans who have passed their pilot's licensing test sits at around 1 in 600. So, the difficulty of passing the falconry test does not explain why so extraordinarily few seek to do it.
Finally, you must pass a facilities inspection, wherein a representative from the state wildlife department (or, in some states, a representative of the state's falconry organization) visits your home and signs off on the mews you have built to house you hawk, and the equipment you have procured for the hawk's maintenance and training. But could that be the barrier to so many? Think of all the horse people in this country along with the facilities and equipment required, albeit not by law, for the maintenance of a horse.
The answer lies in the essential relationship a human must develop with a raptor in order to practice falconry at the appropriate level. The first major hurdle for most stems from the fact that raptors are predators. They must hunt and kill in order to survive. So, when you take one into your life, you too must hunt and kill with it on an ongoing, if not daily, basis (your active role in the hunt will be secondary, but necessary). To not pursue hunting as the primary goal of falconry is to not practice true falconry.
Because they are predators, raptors have a very specialized diet, which cannot be supplied by your local pet or feed store. You must go the extra mile to ensure every meal your hawk eats is akin to a meal it would eat in the wild. That means procuring (through your hunting efforts, or when unsuccessful in the field, through alternate means) a never-ending supply of small, whole, healthy animals. Unlike a "pet" snake, which may eat a "pinky" or "fuzzy" rat or mouse every week or so--and requires little or no handling in between meals--the hawk must be fed highly specialized meals daily (for most mid- to large-sized raptors it will include rabbit and/or whole birds such as coturnix quail or un-diseased pigeons), and the handling of the hawk is ongoing and continual.
Another major hurdle for many is the never-ending maintenance needs of a raptor. Managing one requires your careful attention to a myriad of minutia 365.25 days a year. You must be aware of your charge's health and well-being including: exercise/active hunting, feeding, cleaning, feather care, general health, and tethering and/or housing issues; and let's not forget the federal and/or state regulatory paperwork that goes with holding a live raptor.
Consider, too, that traveling with a falcon is not easy, and in many cases requires dealing with complicated legalities. Leaving a hawk at home is nearly impossible without someone who is knowledgeable in the handling of trained raptors to be there in an emergency. So, breaking away for a normal vacation is far more complicated for a falconer than for any other animal owner.
Think of the relationship with a trained falcon as being a combination of being married in one sense and raising a child who never reaches adulthood in another. You must be as devoted to your hawk as you would be to a spouse and/or a child. This on top of all the practical challenges aforementioned. In other words, falconry is all consuming!
Is falconry for you?
For more insights into falconry and related endeavors--such as bird abatement and raptor propagation--enjoy the many various pages on this website. Whether or not falconry is for you, it is a significant and important aspect of our combined human heritage, and those of us who choose this lifestyle hope to share our passion with the rest of the world so we may better understand and appreciate one another.